Digital Research Tools 2

For histories of science, environment, and agriculture, SDSU has their Agricultural Experiment Bulletins from 1887 and Research Station reports from 1961 posted online, as well as other department reports and publications.  The website is called Open PRAIRIE, link to earliest Bulletins here.

There are a ton of archival resources outside the state that give us insight into South Dakota history.  The New York Public Library has an amazing archive and has made many of their collections available digitally.  See the 104 results that I found searching for “South Dakota” at this link here.

Historic maps can be critical research tools, but also super fun.  The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection is infamous and the 158 results for South Dakota include published atlases as well as exploration maps, territorial maps, railroad maps, soil maps, and tourist maps–link here.  Then, the US Geological Survey recently made historical topographic maps available in a new user-friendly platform, link here.


Profile of a Scholar: Gertrude S. Young

Gertrude Stickney Young taught history at South Dakota State College (now University) from 1907 to 1955.  A small collection of her papers are held at the H.M. Briggs Library at SDSU, link to their site here (also has a photo posted).

It has been a rewarding life, certainly not a dramatic one — this one of teaching for four decades, this one of attempting to point out helpful patterns for working in the present entanglement of world affairs to be found in a study of good and bad reactions to like problems of other peoples and places…. It has been a life of an observer, an interpreter, not a participant….

To have lived through these decades – a blessed privilege; we hope that we have not altogether abused it.

— “A Study in History for the ‘I Personally Award,'” c.1948, p43.

Background and Education

Gertrude Young was born on September 14, 1883 in Sioux Falls.  Her family had a privileged status with the resources to support her education.  Her father, Sutton Young, was the first Speaker of the House in the South Dakota legislature.  He had come to Sioux Falls in 1881 from a Yankee family in Ohio, working in law and real estate interests.  Her mother Emma Stickney Young was born in Ohio, graduated from Oberlin College in 1867, and then taught at a Freedman’s Bureau school in Mississippi for a year and in Ohio schools before marrying Young.  In Sioux Falls, Emma taught for a time at the high school there.  Mrs. Young set an example of civic engagement for Gertrude in her service to the church, charities, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Women’s State Board of Charities and Corrections.

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A Day of History in Brookings

I spent this past Thursday participating in this year’s state competition for National History Day.  I never competed as a student and this was my first year helping as an adult.  Like a Science Fair, National History Day is a chance for teacher-guided but student-directed research into a topic of history and the presentation of that history.  Students have to tie the topic they choose to a theme and their product, whether an ‘exhibit,’ a paper, a performance, a documentary, or a website, has to stay within certain parameters.  It’s a test in research, finding a compelling historical question and thesis, and communicating your knowledge.

Open to junior and senior categories, grades 6 to 8 and 9 to 12, I see how this must be a big thing to learn for the junior category especially.  I know that for me, history was stories and facts to learn for the tests for most of my school career.  I remember finding different histories interesting in school and out of school, but not any more than I found science, math, or grammar interesting.  I cannot for the life of me recall a history research project I did before 11th grade that wasn’t about international holiday traditions (that 3rd grade diorama of a Norwegian Christmas did stick with me).  I loved reading and I recall doing extensive research into my favorite topic — geology — as an elementary student, but I didn’t glimpse the interesting possibilities of historical research until late in high school, and it wasn’t until college that I realized how to compose a compelling historical question and get research done effectively.  In grad school, I stretched into historiography and using theory in historical analysis.  I’m still practicing how to communicate effectively.

When I first looked at some of the student projects at National History Day, I was seeing with professional eyes and, while it sounds terribly obvious and unfair, all of them fell short.  Once the demographics of age, experience, and access to research material for the students and the constraints of the competition sunk into my brain, I was massively impressed with how close several of the projects really did come to asking interesting questions and finding interesting answers.

It was a pretty wonderful day.  I learned from future colleagues’ research (one hopes that some will become historians) and mused over what makes for ‘good’ history work.  I shared the day’s tasks with college students and other professionals who I did not know at all, but who felt like colleagues in short time.  I reflected on my life and on my chosen profession.  And then, because I had never walked around South Dakota State University before, I went on a short, windy, and cold  tour to do a little architecture-gazing…


Photographs by the author, April 2016.

Culture and College: Two Open-Air Theatres in South Dakota

I recently came across these theatres when looking at National Register-listed properties on colleges here in South Dakota.  They are beautiful and fascinating, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to visit, if ever (seeing as one is now part of a prison), so I’ll make use of photos courtesy of the South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office.  I’m curious about how many campuses had similar theatres, or whether other settings were popular as well.

Garden Terrace Theatre, Yankton College, 2008, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office.

Garden Terrace Theatre, Yankton College, 2008, South Dakota State Historic Preservation Office.

The Garden Terrace Theater at Yankton College was listed in the National Register as a historic district with other college buildings in 1982.  Yankton College was founded in 1881 by a Congregational minister, Reverend Joseph Ward.  The college closed in 1984 and was repurposed as a federal prison.  The theatre was designed in 1913, by A.R. Van Dyke, of Minneapolis, and landscape architect Phelps Wyman, and built in 1914.  It was championed by Professor George Harrison Durand and was funded by local citizens and businessmen for use by the college and the whole community.

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